Building university-based boundary organisations that facilitate impacts on environmental policy and practice

Christopher Cvitanovic*, Marie F. Löf, Albert V. Norström, Mark S. Reed

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)


Responding to modern day environmental challenges for societal well-being and prosperity necessitates the integration of science into policy and practice. This has spurred the development of novel institutional structures among research organisations aimed at enhancing the impact of environmental science on policy and practice. However, such initiatives are seldom evaluated and even in cases where evaluations are undertaken, the results are rarely made publicly available. As such there is very little empirically grounded guidance available to inform other organisations in this regard. To help address this, the aim of this study is to evaluate the Baltic Eye Project at Stockholm University–a unique team consisting of researchers from different fields, science communicators, journalists and policy analysts–working collectively to support evidence-informed decision-making relating to the sustainable management of the Baltic Sea environment. Specifically, through qualitative interviews, we (1) identify the impacts achieved by the Baltic Eye Project; (2) understand the challenges and barriers experienced throughout the Baltic Eye Project; and (3) highlight the key features that are needed within research organisations to enhance the impact of science on policy and practice. Results show that despite only operating for three years, the Baltic Eye Project has achieved demonstrable impacts on a range of levels: impacts on policy and practice, impacts to individuals working within the organisation and impacts to the broader University. We also identify a range of barriers that have limited impacts to date, such as a lack of clear goals at the establishment of the Baltic Eye Project and existing metrics of academic impact (e.g. number of publications). Finally, based on the experiences of employees at the Baltic Eye Project, we identify the key organisational, individual, financial, material, practical, political, and social features of university-based boundary organisations that have impact on policy and practice. In doing so this paper provides empirically-derived guidance to help other research organisations increase their capacity to achieve tangible impacts on environmental policy and practice.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0203752
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number9
Publication statusPrint publication - Sept 2018
Externally publishedYes


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